It’s been a while since I have attended one of these so I went with an element of excited anticipation…honest
In truth it was good to have a day away from the office and client site to refresh my view on as many Websphere related topics that I could cram into one day. Another important facet of attending the event was to ‘man’ the Smart421 marketing stand in between the various sessions with one of our Lead Consultant colleagues as part of our long-standing commitment and relationship with the WUG. This is always a bit of a daunting prospect but I saw it as a way of ‘dip-sticking’ the current IT temperature gauge – I was kind of expecting some stumbling conversations around the Cloud but there were more conversations around SOA…….a debate for another time but perhaps SOA is still more real for many organisations at the moment as they continue to experience the pain of their SOA journeys.
The breadth of the sessions available is a real attraction of one of these events and to me adequately justifies any time and cost of attending one these events. We weren’t disappointed by the topics up for discussion. I went to 4 sessions consisting of:
- Business Process Management: Collaborate, Iterate, Refine, Validate – by Waverney Croson, Consulting IT Specialist, IBM
- Java 6 Unleashed: Tuning the IBM JVM – presented by Chris Bailey, IBM Java Technology Center, Hurlsey Lab
- Learning from Other People’s SOA Experiences – presented by John Moe, Head of Integration Services, Tori Global
- Websphere Message Broker V7 Introduction and New Features – presently by Dave Page, IBM Consulting IT Specialist
All the presentations I attended were well prepared and well presented but the one that in the end stood out for me was the ‘Learning from Other People’s SOA experiences’. There has been much debate on the subject of SOA generally and there has been much discussion amongst our consultants in Smart421; where it is today, where it is heading and how it relates to the emergence of the Cloud. Anyway back to the presentation……the slides rolled through but there were a few gems that I thought were worth repeating. The presenter clearly had lived and breathed this stuff and had also been burnt by it; his opening gambit was ‘its not easy’!. He stated that many large organisations had good messaging architectures (hub and spoke) and that moving to a SOA architecture (n layer) wasn’t necessarily a natural next step; “just because you can doesn’t mean you should”. Some reasonable advice was to begin your SOA evolution in small chunks; stay with the core capability of the product you are using to help avoid vendor lock-in around some obscure functionality only available in that product. He did say that the products in this area were far more mature than a few years ago but his strong advice was always to use vendor support to help you through the evolution process. He mentioned that the original implementations of most the products in this area were embarrassingly poor and this did remind me of some work with a client some time ago (circa. 2006) on an early enterprise version of one of these products – it would have been overly generous to even suggest this was ready for ‘beta’ trialing. Some of the other challenges he mentioned were around the adoption of service-based development practices and that organisations entering their SOA evolution should initially look to use agile methodologies to deliver services where tight control could be maintained; when the processes were more mature this could go to a waterfall methodology and off shored. The definition he used for determining SOA maturity was one around reuse; a rough figure of 30-40% reuse of services would represent a mature SOA architecture.
An interesting debate was around governance and it was made clear that this was one of the key barriers to success. This developed into an interesting discussion about versioning of services; this has been raised before on a client site and I was expecting a concise and polished answer but there wasn’t one. The answer given was that there wasn’t a tool out there to help with effective versioning of production services and typically the service would be split into 2 separate production services. He justified this by saying that as soon as a service goes live it effectively becomes legacy and there should be an acceptance that it will be difficult to change due to the potential impacts on consuming platforms. This is certainly something I have seen in practice but I wasn’t expecting that to be the norm!
The session that I was eager to attend based on the original order of the day’s events was the Business Process Management (BPM). I see a lot of need within organisations to manage their processes more efficiently and realise the cost savings that just a few key improvements can often bring. The presentation didn’t disappoint but I was left trying to work out how an organisation could effectively adopt such an array of tools in this area. It may be a reflection of some of the clients I have worked with but it seems to me to require such a large amount of transformation within an organisation to perhaps make it too big a shift to bite off in one go. Maybe the answer is in the question in terms of concentrating on implementing the products/tooling (let’s ignore the cost and vendor lock-in issues for the purposes of this discussion) and target a particular problematic or high-value process and just deliver it. If the delivery is successful (and of course it should be because you will have heavily weighted the first implementation in your favour) then get the recognition and buy-in from other areas and rollout the adoption of the tool and the other requisite skills, training etc. across more and more of your organisation. Perhaps to convince me, I need to attend a ‘Learning from Other People’s BPM experiences’ next time